Monday, February 25, 2008

Writing Contests: A Waste of Time?

I think every writer's heard of the fake writing contests where they make everyone a "winner," publish contestants' pieces in an anthology and then try to sell copies of that anthology back to the contestants and their families as money-making scam.

Since I'd decided to enter some contests as a way to get my name out there and (hopefully) win some contests to gain credibility and build the resume, I decided to investigate the whole thing some more. It's surprising just how many companies and publications use contests as a money-making ventures. More surprising was the fact that winning even a legit contest may mean nothing to writing professionals.

Why You Should Pay Attention to Judge's Names

It seems the big difference between a legit contest that carries weight and one that doesn't is the judges; if the judges aren't mentioned by the publication (possibly the publication's own staff judges), then the quality of the winner's work is questionable, and the win worthless as far as the writing world is concerned. If the judges' names are mentioned and they're known professionals in the field, then the contest is more likely to carry weight (the better & more discriminating the judges are, the more prestige a win carries).

Signs of Contest Fraud

Although the below aren't always clues that a contest is a fraud, likely signs are contests that:
*Have absurdly high entrance fees
*Require that winners allow their work be published by the sponsor. The sponsor can then charge the writer for publication.
*Don't mention judges' names. Who knows who's judging your work?
*Accept all types of writing that will then compete for one prize. How do you judge between a poem and a novel?
*Offer to provide feedback for a fee. Here, the contest acts as a way to lure paying customers to their company.
*Promise a nice big prize for the winner (five or ten thousand), and in the fine print say the prizes are pro-rated based on number of entrants.

The Paycheckback

Even if the contest is legit, I'll be realistic: the chances of winning amid who knows how many other manuscripts is slim. And if I was only entering these contests to win, I probably wouldn't do it (although I did read a piece by one writer who said something like 30% of her writing income had come from contest wins). It's also a good way to get into the habit of writing and regulary sending out manuscripts for evaluation - and for some inspiration. Some of the contest topics are pretty inspiring, and you never know when a submission just might turn into a win.

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